Japanese cuisine is celebrated across the world for its fresh ingredients and the almost basic form in which these are consumed. It is associated with healthy living because of the use of vegetables and fish. The world has acquainted itself with sushi but there is more to Japanese food than that. Let us explore what Japanese cuisine has to offer to us.
Japanese food is characterised by marginal or no use of red meat, oil or dairy products. Being an island nation, people consume things available in the sea, lightly seasoning them with soy sauce, sake, mirin, vinegar, sugar and salt.
Rice can easily be called the backbone of Japanese cuisine. Rice is served at every meal. It is served in a rice bowl called chawan, which literally translates into tea bowl, thus doubling up for drinking tea during the elaborate and famous tea ceremonies. Rice is not only consumed in the boiled form, it is processed into different products such as flour, alcohol and vinegar in Japan. Hakumai or white rice is the central food item. The grain is short and is sticky when cooked. This grain is the polished grain where the outer skin or the bran is removed, giving it its colour.
Brown rice or Genmai is the unpolished rice, which has recently gained popularity for being healthy. The bran that is removed in order to convert this to white rice, has been found to be a storehouse of vitamins and minerals. Often other grains such as barley are added to the rice to make the dish more nutritious and flavourful — this explains how multigrain rice gets its name. There is yet another common type of rice called the glutinous rice, which is even stickier than the white rice. This rice is generally made into rice cakes, traditionally made as a treat on the New Year.
Tempura is a famous dish from Japan. Much like our own pakoras or bhajiyas, tempura is the name given to seafood or vegetables dipped in a batter of whole wheat and egg and deep fried. This dish carries the influence of the Spanish and Portuguese cultures that were introduced in Japan in the middle of the 16th century.
Among the popular dishes are sushi, which is raw fish served on a bed of vinegared rice, though it is not limited to just fish. The cooked vinegared rice is combined with vegetables and sometimes even tropical food or occasionally other meat than fish. It is often served with gari, wasabi and soy sauce. Sashimi is another popular dish that consists of thin slices of seafood served with spicy wasabi. Kaiseki is Japan’s haute cuisine. It is closely associated with the tea ceremony and its hospitality wherein a convoy of small courses is brought in and served with precision on gorgeous looking crockery. This has often been compared to a work of art.
As mentioned before, Japanese dishes are cooked with the freshest ingredients possible. This is done to evoke and celebrate the produce that the current season offers. Traditionally, inedible tree leaves and branches were used to decorate the platter on which food was being served.